Because Physics! The origin of life on Earth

Space.com reports on a new theory about how “abiogenesis” (the transition of ordinary stuff like water and dirt containing molecules into “life”) might have started on Earth. Previous theories suggest that the first self-replicating life form probably came to be randomly in some kind of primordial soup. But some interesting new theories have emerged that suggest that this process wasn’t random at all and was actually bound to happen because of two special thermodynamics concepts known as “entropy” and “equilibrium”.

Entropy is defined as “lack of order or  predictability; [a] gradual decline into disorder”. A system in a high state of entropy is in an “energetic” state, with atoms that are vibrating, excited, and interacting a lot. The opposite of Entropy is Equilibrium; at absolute zero (minus 273.15 degrees Celsius), atoms stop moving altogether, and are in a state known as a “cold death”. As time goes on, unless gravity takes over, all physical systems are eventually doomed to reach a state of equilibrium and the Universe will become cold and lifeless.

“Stop ranting you fat nerd!” I hear you cry. Here’s the tie-in: the new theory suggests that life might be the eventual outcome of the laws of thermodynamics because self-replication (or reproduction) – a key feature of all known life – “is also a very efficient way of … increasing entropy in [a] system.” Bio-molecular systems are designed to keep entropy going, just like your own body is always trying to maintain a constant temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. So the theory is suggesting that physics likes entropy so its rules are designed to keep it going. So here you is!

The Space.com article proposes “a cooling cup of coffee left on a desk”, which instead of going cold, uses chemical reactions to “self-organise” itself to keep a center pocket of liquid within the cup warm. It is this physical self-organisation that could lead to reproduction for the sake of maintaining entropy. “Some physical systems may be sufficiently out of equilibrium that they “self-organize” to make best use of an external energy source, triggering interesting self-sustaining chemical reactions that prevent the system from reaching thermodynamic equilibrium and thus maintaining an out-of-equilibrium state.” And a system replicating itself leads to lots of individual warm spots.

If this theory were to be somehow proven, it would not only solve the mystery of how life got started on our planet, but it would have huge implications for search for extraterrestrial life. Since the laws of physics are thought to be the same everywhere in the Universe, life would have popped up where there are any “physical systems may be sufficiently out of equilibrium” to “self-organize” and reproduce. Now, that’s a lot of aliens!

 

 

 

 

When everything looked both shit and awesome; a look back at pre-Windows screensavers

My first exposure to screensavers came hand-in-hand with my first home computer experience; Windows 3.1. And just like the neuro-plasticizing desktop wallpapers on offer, the star field simulation screensaver blew my 15-year-old mind.

An excellent Youtube video by Nostalgia Nerd focuses on pre-Windows DOS screen savers and celebrates the fact that “Screensavers [have been] saving our CRT screens from phosphor burns since the dark ages”.

Looking back at 1989’s  mesmerising “Bug Fry” to the virgin-identifying Matrix screen saver, I realise that I could probably have coded half of this shit in QBasic in under half-an-hour. Still, they were great for their time, and it’s an reminder of how far computer graphics have come.

(After Dark “flying toasters” screensaver featured image obtained from https://winworldpc.com/)

 

How to see Impossible Colours

If you’re a bit like me and you’re interested in chasing transcendental and other worldly experiences that are non-chemically induced, you might be interested in the following news.

Turns out our brains are actually capable of seeing colours that nature hasn’t shown us yet.

Ever wondered what a blue-ish yellow looks like? If you answered “green”, you are wrong! You can see what blue-ish yellow by staring at the blue and yellow image in this post, and letting your eyes cross so that both crosses appear on top of each other.

There are infact lots of colours that you haven’t seen yet. One is called “Stygian Blue” which is simultaneously both blue and black, and “Self Luminous Red” which is simultaneously red and brighter than white.

These are examples of colours that our eyes are incapable of seeing, but that can appear in our visual cortex by mixing signals between our two eyes. The following Wikipedia article contains some cool tricks that allow you to see them.

 

Long Live MS Paint

I love MS Paint. I love it so much that I have a virtual machine dedicated to it running on my Mac. I love it so much that I spit on paint.net. And thanks to the love of its dedicated fanbase, my favourite quick image editing (and sometimes creation) tool has narrowly missed being killed-off in a Windows 10 future update.

From CNBC:

“[Microsoft] recently released a list which labeled Paint “deprecated”, meaning it was considering removing the app when the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update gets released later this year … Fans on social media decried the potential death of Paint, which has been in existence for 32 years.

But [Megan Saunders of] Microsoft released a blog post shortly after to clarify that Paint would not be completely removed, but instead made available via the Windows Store for free: “Today, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support and nostalgia around MS Paint. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that after 32 years, MS Paint has a lot of fans. It’s been amazing to see so much love for our trusty old app”.

Even though you’ll now need a Windows ID to download it, it’s great to see that this 32-year old masterpiece is not yet ready for the Recycle Bin.

 

UK Tories want to “Change the Internet to control what is said Online”

Either Theresa May is an energy-drink-guzzling Dorito-smashing basement global network hacker by night, or she’s completely unaware that the internet isn’t owned by Britain (nor is it bound by any geographical boundaries).

But either way, she’s going to “change the internet to control what is said online” .

An article from the independent.co.uk has quoted the English Prime Minister as saying “some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet“…”We [Tories] disagree.

Not content to be playing catchup with her Chinese, Russian, North Korean and Iranian government counterparts, a Tory manifesto claims that the plans will allow Britain to become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet“.

Luckily, the prophets of technology Tim and Eric came up with a technical solution to Teresa May’s problems all the way back in 2008:

 

Weird Cold Spot in Space could point to first evidence of Parallel Universes

I’d like to be in the universe where my two-year-old son doesn’t currently have diarrhoea, but in this universe, The Guardian reports

“[The] latest piece of evidence that could favour a multiverse comes from the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society. They recently published a study on the so-called ‘cold spot’. This is a particularly cool patch of space seen in the radiation produced by the formation of the Universe more than 13 billion years ago… 

Perhaps the most exciting of these [explanations for the cold spot] is that the Cold Spot was caused by a collision between our universe and another bubble universe. If further, more detailed, analysis … proves this to be the case then the Cold Spot might be taken as the first evidence for the multiverse.”

Unfortunately, according to the Guardian‘s article, if multiple universes can be proven, we’ll probably never be able to work out the ultimate goal of astro physics, “to explain why our universe is the way it is.”

We Might Have Just Come a Step Closer to Solving the Mystery of Life

A popular theory in science is that life got started when a bunch of molecules randomly bumped together in a bubbling pool of water heated by a volcanic vent roughly 3.8 billion years ago. Now Some chemists at Cambridge have come close to explaining how that might have been possible:

Sciencemag.org reports:

“DNA is better known, but many researchers today believe that life on Earth got started with its cousin RNA, because that nucleic acid can act as both a repository of genetic information and a catalyst to speed up biochemical reactions. But those favoring this “RNA world” hypothesis have struggled for decades to explain how the molecule’s four building blocks could have arisen from the simpler compounds present during our planet’s early days. Now, chemists have identified simple reactions that, using the raw materials on early Earth, can synthesize close cousins of all four building blocks. The resemblance isn’t perfect, but it suggests scientists may be closing in on a plausible scenario for how life on Earth began. “